Monday, July 30, 2012

Gnocchi - Picture Tutorial

I make gnocchi quite often, mainly for three very good reasons: they are super cheap to make; they are ready in no time; they only require two ingredients that I always have in the house.

Plain Flour

Now, the measurements here are quite difficult. Let's say that for 4 adults eating you will need 1 kilo of potatoes. The amount of flour I could really not tell, because you have to keep adding it to the mix until it feels right. The amount of flour mostly depends on the type of potatoes being used. So far, any potato has worked fine for me.

Now, here is the procedure step by step:

Boil the potatoes until cooked, just as you would do if making mash potatoes. If they are quite big, cut them in cubes before boiling.
Once ready, drain and place 2 cups of flour on your clean worktop. Don't worry, it won't stay that clean for too long :)
Place the potatoes on top of the flour:
Mash them with a fork:
This is what you have now:
Start folding in the flour, your hands will get stickier and stickier:
Keep kneading the mix until it becomes a ball like this. Also keep adding flour as needed.
Keep working and adding flour:
Add the flour until you can actually press with your fingers into the mix and this does not stick to them anymore:
Now that you have the mix ready, cut a piece from it and roll it into a long sausage, the thickness should be a bit more than your own finger.
Start cutting pieces out of it with a plain knife, and throw them in a tray with flour in it:
Make sure that you have all sides of each gnocco covered in flour so they don't stick to each other:
Have ready a tray where to cover them in flour and another tray where to settle them:
And this is the final result:

Now, gnocchi are easy to cook. Boil a big pot of water with salt, if you wish, and just toss them in. Turn them gently once or twice just to ensure they don't stick to each other. Once they start surfacing, they are ready to drain and dress with your favorite sauce.

A very simple option is to add butter on top of them and some sage in leaves or powder. They are magnificent this way.

Another option is to prepare a very simple tomato sauce, just basil and garlic and use that one. Make sure the sauce is quite liquid by adding water to it while it's cooking: gnocchi tend to absorb a lot of sauce.

Try it out, once done never forgotten, like the bicycle story. And it's not a lot of work at all.

If you want to make more than necessary, or if it just happens that you make more than necessary, they can be frozen. Place them well separate from each other on a tray, cover with a plastic bag and in the freezer. Once frozen, they can be "reunited" without any problem and kept for a good while.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Spezzatino - Leftovers at their best :)

The pride I took in cooking this simple hearty dish is immense. The biggest satisfaction came from the fact that while it was cooking, my kitchen smelled like my mother's. I could close my eyes for a second and just be tele-transported over next to her, while the wooden stove is on, by the table my parents built together one spring from marble and iron. Fantastic. 
I never had the nerve to cook this before because I just love my mother's Spezzatino, it's one of the things she cooks often during the winter and I was afraid I would be hugely disappointed. I didn't want to spoil that taste.
But being November here in Ireland most of the time, I found no more arguments against it. I just had to try and hope for the best.
So, the principle of the Spezzatino is simple: you throw in the tall pot anything you have at hand.
My mother's Spezzatino is quite simple:

Stewing Beef pieces
A stalk of Celery
One Onion
A clove of Garlic
Tomato Sauce
Olive Oil

Everything is washed/peeled/chopped (except the celery) and placed in the tall pot with a bit of olive oil. Salt is added, then tomato sauce and then enough water to reach almost the top of the pot, let's say you leave the top 5 centimeters.
It has to slowly boil and cook, the meat will release its full flavor that way. You will need to taste it before it's ready for the salt.
Once the soup evaporated enough, I decided it was time to eat. The time of great truth!
I was tempted to add one of my yummy vegetable stock cubes, but then I decided against it, I wanted the Spezzatino just like Mamma's.
And indeed it was!!! Oh joy, I could not believe it, I was so happy I ate two plates... So, so proud to accomplish such unmistakable taste!
This is what it looks like in the plate. The soup is not too thick nor too thin, just the way I like it. But mind your tongue, the vegetables are quite hot!!!
On top I enjoy a bit of chilly powder. My father would cover it in grated Parmigiano cheese. 
And of course, make sure you have bread at hand, you will WANT to clean the plate with it!

Leftovers - My favourites!

Whenever I get to use that last slice of ham or those poor piece of courgette that just did not find its way in any other dish before they become rotten, I'm a happy person!
I hate to see waste; especially food wasted, it breaks my hearth. 
My husband just this morning was "giving out" to me because he says I dread the worst to happen. Well, I admit it, I do! That's why saving and avoid wasting (money, food, water, heat) are so important to me.
We live a very fulfilling life, nothing is ever missing from our table (unless we forget to buy it!) or our lives. Our son's Christmas is full of presents and his clothes always clean, and despite my habit of saving here and there, he is the happiest child I know. That's important.
I also remember well from my childhood, and generally from the part of my life spent under my parent's roof, how much tastier some foods were the next day.
Now, on Saturday I was on my own for lunch, husband busy playing soccer (or so he says...) and I desperately craved pasta!!! With no actual will power to make a proper sauce, I opened the fridge and found the 


3 mushrooms
1/2 onion
3 slices of Salami
4 Cherry Tomatoes

Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

I put the water on for the pasta, with some rock salt as usual. In a non stick pot with a bit of olive oil, I placed the tomatoes split in half, the sliced mushrooms and onion and the salami cut in little pieces. I threw a bit of salt on them as well and put a cover on.
By the time the water was boiling and it was time for the pasta to go in, the topping was almost ready.
The cooked pasta was then drained and mixed, on medium heat in the non stick pot, with the topping, and here is the result:
Very, very enjoyable indeed! By leaving the salami out, it's a completely vegan dish.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Vegetable Stock Cubes!!!

I need to confess: I'm a huge fan of vegetable stock. This means that, twice a week during the whole Winter when my husband is out playing soccer, Yuri (my son) and myself, will have a simple warm pasta soup, cooked with just vegetable stock and topped with grated parmesan cheese. That's it! I love it, it reminds me of the long evenings my mother and I spent at home while my father worked the late shift in the car factory.
Yesterday I read an article about MSG, monosodium glutamate. It sounds like a poison. And chances are, it's not healthy. IKEA removed it from its foods sometime last year, and they are always ahead in these things, so well, I am going to remove it too. I am pregnant at present, and I don't want to feed myself and, now, my two children anything unhealthy.

MSG is present in many vegetable stock cubes so I decided to make my own cubes with salt and vegetables. And no weird stuff in it. The procedure is super simple and, as usual, the thing cooks itself giving me the time to make my son a pencil case and a holdall for school at the sewing machine.

Ingredients for 56 cubes:
1 Courgette
1 White Onion
3 Carrots
10 Cherry Tomatoes
A small bunch of Parsley
2 small sticks of Rosemary
2 stalks of Celery
500 grams of Rock Salt

Some of the ingredients, peeled and washed

Peel, wash and chop up the whole lot and throw it in a non stick pot.
Cover them with all the salt and place the lid on.
Let cook on low-medium heat for 90 minutes.
The salt will extract all the water from the vegetables, so there is no need to add any water. Once you like the look of the whole thing (it doesn't really look nice now, does it?) blend it all.
Once cooled, place all of the paste in the ice cube trays and freeze them.
I got exactly 56 cubes plus 1 which I left in the fridge to try tonight :)
Once the cubes are frozen, I'll place them all in freezer bags so they don't take up too much space.
And here's what I was doing in the meantime:
We're almost ready for the long winter that will soon be here. School gear an'all!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Menu Planner - Download

I have a few recipes I've tried recently which I was impatient to share on the Blog, but today I would like to share something that I want to start using from September:

LunchBox Planner

Weekly menu Planner

A new baby is on the way for us, and I feel more and more forgetful and tired all the time. My friends who have children tell me it's normal, but I don't like it one bit! That is why I came up with these templates. One is for use for the weekly dinners, and weekend meals. One is to make sure I give my son, who's starting Primary School in September, enough variety. 
This is what I've been doing all along, because my son has been in childcare since he was 13 months, but I've always refused to avail of their catering services. I prefer to cook myself for him. Now that another child is coming, I'm afraid I will forget more and more things being busier. So that's why I wanted something in writing to keep on the kitchen wall.

Download and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Curried Beans and Potatoes

With my great satisfaction, last night I dug up our potatoes. The investment was definitely worth it: this is what I got out of only 3 not-so-good-looking potatoes I buried in March.

 There are also peas and I'm very happy about those as well. I am slowly picking them day by day and adding to the freezer bag :)

Now, last night, I was so proud of my produce I had to eat some of it. I already had soaked a handful of Borlotti beans on Saturday, so they needed to be used as well. Fine, here is what I put together last night for dinner while also knitting and watching the last bits of a movie:


A handful of Borlotti beans, soaked or out of the can
3 Potatoes
Curry Powder (mine was mild)
Straight to Wok noodles (mine were Udon)
A garlic clove if you like

Place all the beans and the potatoes, washed and cut in cubes, in the pan with some olive oil and the garlic clove. Sprinkle with salt and curry powder. Let fry a bit then add some water

Let cook on moderate heat for at least 30 minutes, the beans take a while to cook properly, especially the soaked ones. The ones from the can will cook way faster, so keep an eye on them to make sure they don't over cook.

Keep adding curry powder and salt to taste, this is not rocket science so it depends how you prefer it.

Once the beans and the potatoes are ready, add the noodles, let them cook according to the instructions and serve.

So fulfilling, so easy and fast and no animal proteins in sight!